Richardson has also worked to help himself. The NFL has offered four elite entrepreneurship programs to players—one at Stanford, one at Harvard, one at the Wharton School and one at the Kellogg School of Management—and Richardson has attended them all. He received a bachelor's degree in education and a master's in business while playing in the NFL. The latter, from Webster University, was an especially proud moment because Ben Richardson was there, finally, to see his son receive a diploma. "I don't think I've ever been around a player," his old coach Dick Vermeil said after that, "who worked harder to be a better man."
Football's Best Man knows that sooner or later one of the Terminators is going to get him. He has worked with Conner enough to sense that the kid has that combination of talent and will that leads to NFL stardom. This guy will be New York's fullback at some point. Maybe now. Maybe next year. Every day Richardson tries to help Conner get a little bit better. It wouldn't mean anything otherwise.
"I know I can still play this game, and I know I can help the Jets win a championship," Richardson says. "I'm here to win the job, no question about it. But if there's one thing I've learned, it's that football is bigger than one person."
While he's talking, Richardson is eating chicken in the Jets' cafeteria. He has eaten a lot of training camp meals, endured a lot of two-a-day practices, spent a lot of July and August nights sleeping on dorm cots. More than anything, he has spent countless hours in meeting rooms listening to coaches drone on about the same plays and the same techniques and the same schemes. What can they teach him about football? His running backs coach, Anthony Lynn, played in Denver when Richardson was with the Chiefs. His offensive coordinator, Brian Schottenheimer, is the son of his first NFL coach, Marty Schottenheimer.
Here's the thing about Football's Best Man, though. Even now, when he goes into those meetings, he brings a notebook. And though he's heard these things a hundred times, a thousand times, he takes meticulous and preposterously neat notes. Why? There's always another lesson to be learned.
Richardson looked down at his phone and a photo appeared, a picture of a little girl. He studied it for a moment, then heard Larry Johnson say, "Tony, will you be her godfather?" Richardson smiled as he thought about how much he meant to a former teammate.
"Of course I will, Larry," he said. And Football's Best Man realized, yes, that he was kind of crying.